This blog is my reflection upon reading an article in the December 18, 2010 Economist magazine. I give full credit to the Economist and the author(s) and I am not in any position to reap material gain through this post’s publication. My intent is solely to share the reflections I had as a result of reading the article along with the my beliefs on how we might learn from what is discussed.
Last month, the Economist magazine had a wonderful article about the onset of happiness and a greater sense of well-being as we age. The article shares a good deal of supporting evidence that suggests that once we reach mid-life (about mid-forties or so), there is an uptick on our over-all sense of well-being following a decline in the couple of decades leading up to that point. Some regions in the world are going so far as to even define a metric for a collective level of happiness.
This phenomenon has many dimensions and each has its own share of theories as to their existence. Of all that is presented in the article, I have two favorites. First there is the belief that as we age we are better equipped to seek happiness from within. As mortality becomes less and less distant, living in the moment becomes slightly easier if not even more natural. This is supported by observation and/or study where such patterns exist in regions where life experiences are vastly different; United States and Zimbabwe for example. Also, even when externalities such as money, employment status and children are controlled, this mid-life U-bend, as the article refers to it, is still present. As a result, older people tend to deal with conflict more constructively, manage their emotions better and are less prone to anger and are less likely to pass judgment on people who say negative things about them. It seems to me that we seem to finally realize that happiness truly is an inside job.
Second, and here is where I have greater pause, there is this notion of a dichotomy between acceptance and ambition – a rise in the former ostensibly yields to a fall in the latter. As we age and become more aware of our strengths and weakness, we become more accepting of what we will not accomplish despite all our grand ambitions of yesteryear. I celebrate acceptance. Yet I personally am challenged by the idea that we become less ambitious. Perhaps, given a greater understanding of self and our own limitations, our ambitions become more congruent with our natural abilities.
There is an old adage that suggests that youth is wasted on the young. Perhaps there is some truth to this. It is also said that experience is the best teacher. I have long held that in most circumstances experience is the only teacher. Nothing teaches us like having made mistakes. I do believe that wisdom is only begotten through challenging experiences. The process of aging brings with it the ability and mindset to live more harmoniously amongst one another. Isn’t that what civilization is all about?